The Hidden Gospels - Part 4: Gospel of Philip

01/08/09 | Posted by MattPage

“The companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth”.1 It’s the most famous quote from the Gospel of Philip courtesy of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. Interestingly the scene plays differently in the movie. Arch-conspiracy theorist Leigh Teabing gets cut off with the final “mouth” not yet upon his lips. The reason for this discrepancy goes back to the ancient text itself. Apparently parts of the only existing copy of “The Gospel of Philip” got gnawed away2, meaning that, at best, we can only speculate as to where exactly Jesus was supposed to have planted one on Mary Magdalene.

image
 Last Temptation explores Jesus getting married to Mary Magdalene

But “mouth” does seem to be the most likely option. Aside from the fact that elsewhere in “Philip” Magdalene is put on a par with Jesus’ mother and his aunty, (also bizarrely called Mary – according to “Philip” at least), she is also called his companion. Scholars are divided as to what this means. Some say that “companion” really meant “wife”. Others consider that unlikely. 

Does the double occurrence suggest that Jesus really was married to Mary? Not really. Setting aside the doubts over the missing word and the intended meaning of companion, there’s the age of Philip to be taken into account. At the very earliest it’s dated at 150AD, and the likelihood is that it first came into existence about 50 years after that around 200 years after Jesus was born.3 If this is the only piece of evidence we have (from among 20+ ‘gospels’ written by 200AD) that suggests that Jesus was married to Mary then it seems fairly unlikely. Besides, if it was a romantic kiss, then why do the disciples get so jealous about it in the very next sentence? .

Of the hidden gospels I’ve looked at so far, Philip is easily the longest, and actually much of it reads like a commentary, or one of Paul’s letters. Of course Luke, and quite possibly Mark, Matthew and John were also technically letters, but Philip feels much more like someone is making an argument rather than telling a story. Jesus is quoted, as are a few New Testament books, but it’s the author’s voice we’re most aware of. And it’s less about a revolutionary teaching programme than about the ceremonial aspects of church life – marriage, death, anointing with oil, baptism and communion.

It also seems much harder to understand than the gospels of Thomas and Mary. Again this is probably because its later than those texts. The Gnostic4 ideas here are more developed and more prevalent. “Knowledge is freedom” says the author in one place. And elsewhere, “it is proper to destroy the flesh”. There’s also some flat out contradiction to more orthodox ideas about Jesus. Those that say “Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit ” are “in error”. Joseph is identified as the one “who made the cross”, and Jesus is said to have been resurrected before he died.

Other sections are just plain bizarre. “God is a man-eater”. “The world is a corpse-eater”. And my personal favourite, “Echmoth is the wisdom of death”.

In fact, the text is so packed with bizarre or complicated ideas that it’s hard to imagine it found anything but the narrowest of audiences. Little wonder that the text was entirely unknown to us before it’s discovery in 1945. The Gospel of Thomas was mentioned and even quoted in other works - when it turned up at Nag Hammadi, it was simple to identify. But even the name “The Gospel of Philip” is a modern invention. Philip isn’t the author, he’s just the only disciple to be named. And so ultimately, what’s most surprising about the The Gospel of Philip is not its contents, but that in spite of theological obscurity, the passing of history and, perhaps even a spot of persecution, it somehow survived for 1800 years and has become one of the most well known of all the hidden gospels.

1 – Brown, Dan, “The Da Vinci Code”, p246

2 – “The Lost Gospels” BBC documentary. Broadcast Sat. 15 Mar 2008. BBC Two

3 – Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Philip”. Early Christian Writings. www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospelphilip.html. 2 Feb. 2006. Accessed 30th July 2009.

4 – Gnosticism was an early, unconventional, branch of Christianity that taught matter was bad but spirit was good, and that salvation was by gaining hidden esoteric knowledge

 

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Yeah I think I once read, or tried to read the Gospel of James but it was largely unreadable. I stick to the four gospels of the Bible as as rule.

#1. By doors on August 06, 2009

not a comment but a question. Jesus had 12 disciples Judas who betrayed Christ hung himself. that left 11 after Jesus was crucified died and was buried then was reserected and ascended to the right hand of YAHWEH our Father the remaining 11 disciples who had become Appostles elected the twelfth Appostle. so why are there only 4 gosples Matthew Mark Luke and John. Why dont we have any Gospels simon who was called Peter Andrew James Philip James the son Alphaeus Simon the Canaanite. I have heard there was a gospel according to Jesuses grandfather but when Rome broke away it was declared unreliable. I shall be gratefull if someone would enlighten me to why there are only 4 “good News” Stories has told by those closest To our Saviour The Christ.

#2. By sean on August 08, 2009

Well in fact only two of the four New Testament gospels are named after the disciples, and there’s doubt as to whether either of those were written by the disciple they are named after.

Essentially, most of the disciples were peasants, with little education. They may have learnt to write over their lives, but given the amount of time they would have spent preaching building churches and travelling, it’s not that surprising that they didn’t write a great deal. And a gospel, at least like those of the New Testament is a major piece of work, particularly in the first century. So the likelihood is that few of the 12 ever wrote gospels, though it’s likely that they utilised oral collections of Jesus’ words and actions in their preaching.

Matt

#3. By MattPage on August 10, 2009

It is much more rewarding to read scripture prayerfully rather than question the amount of gospels.  The Bible is the inspired word of God, nothing is to be added or taken away from it.  If the Lord had intended there to be 12 Gospels then there would be.  It is not for us to question the content of scripture, it is our Daily Bread- enjoy it and be inspired by it just the way it is.

#4. By Sarah Hardy on August 14, 2009

AMEN! Sarah.  :o)

#5. By Emma on August 17, 2009

There are so many books that didn’t make the canon from the ‘official’ apocrypha to gnostic gospels like Philip.

Can we learn anything from them?

#6. By Jezza on September 06, 2009

Jezza I think that must be done prayerfully and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to discern the truth.  God says that nothing should be added or taken away from Scripture and we know that these Gnostic pieces were written many years after the supposed ‘authors’ wrote them.  Remember that the Bible is Go breathed and was perfectly put together to real the truth that God wants us to have at our disposal to become true and loving witnesses to Him on Earth.  Everything else should be used prayerfully and with discernment, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.

#7. By Sarah Hardy on February 13, 2010

You say “also bizarrely called Mary”. In fact any woman named “Mary” in the Bible is being referred to by her title which also had another title added, that of “Virgin”.

“Mary” is derived from “Miriam” the sister of Moses. In the Jesus story his mother was actually called Dorcas. She was given the title “Mary” as recognition of her high social/religious status being married to Sabbas, or as we know him, “Joseph”.  Joseph being a title given to Sabbas because he was the crown prince to the Jewish Davidic crown, his father at that time was the Davidic King. Sabbas was killed by Agrippa in 23 AD when Jesus became known as the Joseph. In other words, Jesus was at that time crown prince to his grandfather Heli.

Dorcas was a religious woman, a Nun, if you will, belonging to the “Order of Dan”.  They were also known as the Order of Virgins. So even after having five children she was still a “Virgin”, but only because she belonged to the Order of Dan.

#8. By Edward on July 20, 2010

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